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Giano 57 - 2007 - The social responsibility of the intellectual

Giano 57 The social responsibility of the intellectual


Marcello Cini, Science and Ethics: breaking down the barriers
Luigi Cortesi, Angst and antagonist responsibility

The two pieces published here were presented on October 29th 2007 at the “2007 Festival of Science” held in Genoa. Marcello Cini and Luigi Cortesi took part in the section devoted to the Ethics of the Scientist, edited by Riccardo Antonini  and coordinated by “Giano” which also included a presentation by Jeffrey Laurenti. There was a performance of the musical Faust a Hiroshima, written by Giovanni Guardigli from an idea by Riccardo Antonini, which went on to be enthusiastically received in Rome.
The themes dealt with are closely connected to Giano’s sphere of study and debate, and have often been the focus of M. Cini, philosopher of science, and L. Cortesi, historian, both driven by their social interest and equally concerned about the risks humankind is at present running.

Marcello Cini. In the century that has just drawn to a close, humanity established its full dominion over the Earth’s inert material, culminating in the discovery of atomic energy. The new century will, instead, be that of humanity’s control over living material, over the mental sphere and conscience. This shift transforms the very nature of science and the ethical issues it raises. It breaks down the  fences that traditionally separated  science from other human activity; technology and the values  underpinning the norms  governing the behaviour of individuals and their social actions. As a consequence it has become necessary to reconstruct deontological norms that provide research with the tools to ensure reliable results and social operators with elements to help them make morally acceptable rational choices. 
In the relationship between ethics and scientific research, the work of Hans Jonas is an essential reference point. According to this philosopher the first new value that must be introjected  is one based on our moral obligation to foreshadow and investigate the hypothetical possibilities that our present, weighed down as it is with in many ways calculable consequences, bears with it. To this end it is essential to follow the “principle of precaution”. 
New imperatives also come with the irrepressible development of information technology, where the battle rages between open source and free software practices and the Bill Gates approach. The conflict derives from two opposing concepts of ethics.
In the economics of knowledge business makes its profits from the ownership of information maintained through patents, brand names and confidentiality agreements, and justifies these practices with the protestant money ethic. The ethics that distinguish the hacker community are based on the principle of information sharing. A new form of economics could develop around this principle, based on open source businesses.
This theme also covers the growing bond between technosciences and the democratic order of western industrialised societies. It is becoming increasingly pertinent because of the influence this bond has on every aspect of our daily life and our future. It raises issues that affect most of the population: waste disposal, energy production, safeguarding the  environment, genetically modified products, disease prevention, the freedom of telecommunications.An original approach to this problem has been developed in recent decades by academics involved in the study of the relationship between science, technology and society (SIS). According to Wiebe E. Bijker we must “politicize technological society and demonstrate to a broad range of social actors - politicians, engineers, scientists, besides the public in general - that science and technology carry values. 
Bijker believes SIS researchers must become the new intellectuals of the XXI century, to work on the myriad facets of concrete problems: ecology, the North South gap, terrorism, democracy. Daniele Ungaro examines the same themes as Bijker. He offers a definition of this concept that covers both the crisis in scientific objectivity that derives from the huge potential of technology tied to the advances in knowledge about nature, and from the existence of new forms of association between the human and the non-human within which social relations, the material existence of individuals and environmental change takes place. We must move beyond the traditional concept of a science made of indisputable facts and of technology made of objects that can be controlled at will. It is also necessary to establish politics of  subjects and their priorities by transforming human subjects and natural objects into social actors (human and non-human) as part of a collective hybrid society/environment. The right of all the stake holders to intervene and assert their fundamental needs must be recognised.
The modern scientist can no longer simply refuse to take part in a task that is objectively out of control. He or she must contribute actively from within, to free the process of the awareness of nature and society from the chains that bind it ever more tightly to the blind mechanisms of the market.